achievement gaps and understanding the barriers
that create them. We will strive to develop tools
and ways of thinking that will arm our college
presidents with powerful and meaningful ways
to ensure that all students have a clear pathway to
attaining their goals.”
Jose Fierro, president of Cerritos College in
California, attended the initial December meeting.
Noting that two-thirds of today’s jobs require more
than a high school diploma, up from 56 percent in
1992, Fierro said that equity in college completion is
an essential driver of economic mobility.
“A college credential is a way to the middle class
for underrepresented populations, including immigrants and minorities,” he says. “Unfortunately,
many minority groups continue to lag behind.”
REMOVING BARRIERS TO SUCCESS
One initiative that Cerritos College has created to
solve this issue is a scholarship program for students who enroll directly after high school, called
Like other College Promise scholarships, it
provides financial assistance for any student who
is willing to meet certain academic requirements
and pledges to graduate from the college on time.
However, the program also recognizes that tuition
isn’t the only barrier standing in the way of success for minority and low-income students.
“We’re promising not just financial support,
but extensive wraparound services to help students complete their degree,” Fierro says.
Before they enroll in classes, Cerritos Complete
recipients are required to meet with an academic
advisor to build a personalized education plan.
They also must take a short summer course called
Connections, which prepares them to navigate the
college environment. And a representative from
the college meets with students and their parents
together to explain what they can expect.
“About 60 percent of our students are first-gen-
eration college students,” Fierro says. “We have
found that it’s very important to include parents
during the transition to college, particularly for
students of color.”
Aside from paying the tuition costs of Cerritos
Complete participants, the college has made a
significant investment in the success of these stu-
dents. For instance, it spent more than $1 million
last year to embed academic tutoring into courses
where students tend to struggle the most, such as
math and English.
Participation in the program has grown from
262 students in 2015-16 to more than 1,400 students
this year. Initially, the program only paid students’
first-year tuition expenses. But with a new state
program pitching in additional funding, the college
recently announced that it would expand Cerritos
Complete to cover the full cost of a two-year degree.
Convincing underserved populations that
college is even possible is another key challenge.
Cerritos College has hired a liaison who travels
among the area’s high schools and helps students
realize that college is an attainable goal, regardless
of their circumstances.
The liaison, whose salary is paid by the college
and each of the school systems it serves, advises
high school students how to prepare for college Im
AACC hosted a meeting
of community college
leaders in December to
launch the Unfinished